Closed doors darken Capitol tours

Monday, October 15, 2001

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- They were touted as the largest outdoor-to-indoor stairs when they were built. And the bronze doors a little more than halfway up were hailed as the largest cast since the Roman era.

The double 13-by-18-foot bronze doors at the Capitol are locked, blocking the 79-step staircase after step 45.

The new closed-door policy is a result of stepped-up security at the Capitol in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

Perhaps more than anything, the locked doors illustrate the tradeoff between the desire to keep the Capitol safe and yet accessible to the public.

For years, tour guides have taken groups of school children, senior citizens and out-of-state-visitors to the top of the marble steps, lit naturally by the sunlight showing through the open doors.

Standing on the third floor of the Capitol, looking down the steps through the doorway to the ground below, tourists are told how the size of the steps and doors were said to be of historic proportions when the Capitol was completed in 1918.

"This tour guide's heart is broken," says Theora Peterson, who for nearly 17 years has been stopping at the steps. "It's THE feature of this Capitol." Other veteran tour guides nod their heads.

What's more, "it's dark without the doors open, and it takes away from the absolute beauty of the area," Peterson says. "I think it's more upsetting to me, for some reason, than the metal detectors."

The Capitol now also has metal detectors -- another marked change for the state seat of government, where visitors of the very recent past could come and go through any of 10 doors.

Only one doorway is open to visitors, who may have trouble finding it because it's in a tunnel underneath the stately steps and closed bronze doors.

Guides don't have ID

The new security measures are by order of Gov. Bob Holden, who after the attacks hired retired Army Col. Tim Daniel as a special adviser on homeland security -- a first-of-its-kind position among states.

Acting on Daniel's recommendations, Capitol workers must show state identification cards to bypass the metal detectors.

Most tour guides, because they are part-time employees, don't have identification cards yet, so they must pass through the metal detectors as if they were visitors.

The big bronze doors used to be open during weekday business hours, and visitors and lawmakers alike could climb the steps to the third floor to the legislative chambers.

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